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Washington Governor Signs Protections For Renters, Right To Counsel Bill

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Tenants in Washington State now have new rights and protections related to late fees and other punitive actions if they missed paying rent during the pandemic.

Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill Thursday that requires low-income tenants facing eviction to be represented by an attorney. The new law also extends protections for renters after the governor’s eviction moratorium ends on June 30.

Terri Anderson is the executive director of the Spokane Branch of the Tenant’s Union of Washington State. 

“It’s a pathway from the moratorium to housing stability.”

Anderson estimates less than 10% of tenants in Spokane have a lawyer. She said sometimes, a volunteer lawyer will be at their eviction hearing, but often they will have met just a few minutes before the judge shows up, and have little time to discuss the tenant’s circumstances.

She also likes the other protections in the bill. They bar landlords from denying housing based on missed rent payments during the pandemic and prohibit landlords from charging late fees on rent for six months after the eviction moratorium ends. 

She said she’s now working to educate tenants about the changes, especially before a new round of rental assistance becomes available through The American Rescue Plan, which congress passed in March.

“We really want to get outreach and education tenants so that they know these resources are available so they don’t give up hope and just move because they feel like they have a mountain of debt and no way out. There is a way out, there is hope and there are resources.”

She said this is one of several housing-related bills the state legislature approved this year. Both the Washington House and Senate have approved the Residential Landlord Tenant Act, which prohibits 20-day eviction notices and requires other protections for tenants. The House has also approved a permanent rental assistance fund, which is in the Rules Committee in the Senate.

Governor Inslee has not yet signed those two bills, but if he does, Anderson said it could be an important step toward preventing a new wave of homelessness and recovery.

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